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How Hong Kong Quarantine Rules Are Affecting Cathay Pacific

Hong Kong currently has the strictest quarantine rules for airline crews, profoundly impacting flag carrier Cathay Pacific. Restrictions include a 14-day quarantine for returning aircrews from high-risk countries, all toward the goal of keeping the territory’s cases at zero. With a new variant spreading, Cathay Pacific is reportedly going into “contingency mode” due to new rules.

Cathay Pacific pilots and cabin crew have reported mental health issues due to the challenging rules. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying


It’s no secret that Hong Kong takes its COVID-19 quarantine rules seriously. Since March 2020, nearly all resident arrivals have spent two weeks in a hotel room until they could enter the city. However, aircrews were exempt from these restrictions last year, only taking PCR tests upon return.

That all changed in January, with the government requiring all crews from high-risk countries, which includes much of Europe and North America, to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon return. This had a considerable impact on Cathay Pacific, which axed nearly 60% of its flights due to a lack of crew availability.

Despite being fully vaccinated, Cathay crews are not exempt from the quarantine requirements. Photo: Getty Images

Since then, Cathay has been implementing a voluntary closed-loop roster system. This system would see crew fly non-stop for three weeks and remain in hotels in Hong Kong and abroad, exempting them from quarantine. The three-week duty would be followed by a two weeks hotel quarantine and two weeks of leave.

Impact on crew

While Cathay’s roster system allows staff to receive slightly increased pay and maintain essential flight schedules, it comes at a grueling toll on individuals. According to The Straits Times, pilots have reported extreme stress and mental health pressures due to the quarantine system currently in place.

Things have only become worse as new variants emerge. Last month, over 270 Cathay staffers, families, and close contacts were quarantined after three pilots flying through Frankfurt tested positive. This threat of bringing case home has only increased stress, with one pilot saying,

“Things are horrible, resignations are through the roof. There are a lot of guys at their breaking point. It’s actually amazing that we haven’t had an accident yet.”

Cathay A321neo
Cathay Pacific staff are reporting psychological stress from the debilitating quarantine rules. Photo: Cathay Pacific

The Hong Kong government has made it clear that its goal is remaining at COVID zero and open the border with mainland China. This has cost the city millions of visitors from any other country and left Cathay at 1/10th the capacity of its competitors. However, things are only set to worsen as the Omicron variant starts to spread.


According to the SCMP, Cathay Pacific expects another tightening of rules, resulting in more canceled routes. This is sending the carrier into “contingency mode,” canceling flights and shrinking upcoming schedules.

On Thursday, the airline axed 28 of its 61 passengers departures and one-third of cargo-only flights. Today will see more flights canceled as Hong Kong limits arrival, and Cathay expects to see even fewer available crew.

Cathay is nowhere close to recovery as Hong Kong keeps its border closed. Photo: Cathay Pacific

With over 50 countries now in the “Group A” HK classification, Cathay Pacific will struggle to shore up volunteers for closed-loop rosters. Inevitably, the airline’s path to breaking even and rebounding is only getting longer as global competitors leap forward to take its place.

What do you think about Hong Kong’s COVID rules and their impact on Cathay Pacific? Let us know in the comments!

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